Legislature

School funding measures move forward

House passes bills that pump about $500 million into K-12 schools

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A pair of funding measures that will provide schools with nearly $500 million in new revenue passed the House with bipartisan support last week.

Although the bills received Republican votes, several House GOP members raised concerns that the efforts don't go far enough in backfilling recession-era budget cuts, or giving school districts more control over financial and transparency matters.

The bills passed the House on April 1o, with lawmakers first giving overwhelming bipartisan support to the Student Success Act. The bill would provide $20 million aimed at helping kids meet mandated third-grade reading standards and adds $13 million in funding for charter school facilities.

The bill also incorporates $40 million in retail marijuana revenue that will go toward school construction in rural parts of the state.

The legislation will also provide schools with $110 million of the money that was stripped away by the Legislature during lean budget years.

"(The bill) begins the process of rebuilding K-12 funding that was struck hard during the past five years of Colorado's recession, within the parameters of our current state budget," said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, a bill sponsor.

The House also passed the annual School Finance act. The bill increases per-pupil funding by 2.8 percent; funds an additional 5,000 seats for preschool and full-day kindergarten programs; and pumps $30 million into English language learning programs.

The House passed the Student Success Act on a 51-14 vote and the School Finance Act by a vote of 39-26. Lawmakers who voted against the bills were Republicans.

House Republicans tried pulling money from reading and early childhood education programs, so that school districts could have greater flexibility in how the funds are spent, with few strings attached.

"The school districts said, 'Give us the money with no strings attached. Give us the money to decide how to use it ourselves,' " said House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, during the School Finance Act debate.

The Republican efforts failed, with members from the majority party arguing that it's wrong to strip funding from the programs that need it.

"Yes, every school district wants their money, but you and I are responsible about the future of Colorado," said Rep. Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge.

Republicans also spent a great deal of time arguing against a Democrat-sponsored amendment aimed at providing greater transparency over how school districts are spending state dollars.

Republicans offered a softer transparency amendment, out of concern that Democrats were burdening school districts with too many requirements. That effort failed.

Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, a Student Success Act bill sponsor, was one of two Republicans to vote for the School Finance Act and the only one to vote for both school-funding bills.

Murray told her Republican colleagues that she understands their concerns on those issues, but that she and others worked hard to "come up with the best possible bill we can."

"This is an amazing product that we have all been part of together," Murray said.